A Shoulder to Cry On ...

Talk is cheap, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t follow it through with our actions in real life. This year The Mountain Farmgirl had a sad, sad holiday, making it hard for her to take her own Christmas blog advice. Although being strong and ‘walking the talk’ are important, sometimes you just need A Shoulder to Cry On …

Hi Farmgirls.  I need a big Farmgirl hug.   Last time we got together I was full of advice on spreading Christmas joy amidst adversity. I cited the Connecticut school shooting, Hurricane Sandy, and many other recent events and issues that have wreaked havoc on our spirits as we anticipated the holiday. My advice was that we need to spread (and sometimes just outright create) joy despite our outward circumstances. I still truly believe that, but sometimes it is easier said than done.  Little did I know when I wrote it that I myself would soon be put to the test.  Here’s what happened:

Three days before Christmas my husband got a phone call. Now phone calls at an inn are not unusual. On the contrary, they’re a necessary evil that goes with the territory. From 6 a.m. till midnight, (and even well beyond) our phones ring. A LOT.  (There could be worse things, however … like NO calls, right?! I’m not complaining!) But I like to tease my husband that his cell phone gets even more calls than our business does. He gets so many that I picture him with the thing permanently affixed to his right hand or growing out of his ear. He denies this vehemently … (although usually while reaching for his ringing phone).

I try to add a bit of levity here because I need to … because on December 22, one of the calls he got that day was ‘different’ from all the rest. All of a sudden Dana got very serious.  I heard snatches of the conversation, but didn’t think anything of it, things such as “Islands” … “Clothes” … “Boats” …   He started writing things down and taking copious notes as he listened; then he left the room to continue the conversation in the other room. Frankly, I was busy baking pies and cookies, wrapped up in my own little world, thinking about my grown children who would be soon arriving for Christmas. I wasn’t paying much attention to phone calls. So I went about my business in my beautiful MaryJane apron and forgot all about it. But life was very much about to change for us with that call.  My husband Dana came back in with a ghastly, shell-shocked look on his face.  “That was Whitney on the phone,” he said.


                                    Our Friend Whitney                         His son Prescott

A little background: Whitney is the dearest, truest-bluest friend we’ve got.  Dana went to college with him, and he is one of the only persons on earth I can think of who would be on our doorstep in a flash – in good times or bad – if we ever needed him. He has a strong moral compass, and would do anything we asked of him.  He has proved this in so many ways over the years, and his friendship is like gold to us. His only child Prescott, is also a special friend to each of our four kids, and has been more like a ‘member of the family’ than ‘friend’ since he was born. We’ve all taken many adventures together over the years and stored up special memories.


Whitney                            Dana (in green) and College Buddies

But one of the nice things about friendship is that it’s a reciprocal thing, isn’t it? We’ve tried to be there for Whitney, too, and his life hasn’t been an easy one the last few years. He recently beat a particularly virile form of melanoma and currently has a clean bill of health. It was a difficult and scary time for him as he navigated through the frightening and often confusing medical world of cancer. Sadly, he is also going through a painful divorce from his wife (also our friend) of 30+ years, and is having to sell his amazing dream home he built on the water. It has been a perfect storm … the convergence of hard times for this amazingly resilient man. But apparently it was he who had just called Dana, and the tone of the conversation suddenly seemed ominous. There was no easy way to say it, so my husband just cut to the chase.

“Whitney is pretty sure that Prescott is dead.”

This is going to sound overly dramatic, I know, but the words hit me like a physical assault.  I was speechless. I’ve seen movies in which the actor or actress is asked, “Are you sitting down? I have some bad news…” but I had never actually received a shock like this in real life.  I guess the ‘sitting down’ thing is good advice to keep in mind if you’re ever in such a situation, because strangely, seconds later, just when the impact of what had been said actually sunk into my brain, my knees buckled.  They literally folded like an accordion and couldn’t support me.  I just sat in a crumpled heap on my kitchen floor, mouth gaping, waiting to hear some details as tears began to flood my eyes. A million questions flashed through my mind. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. This couldn’t be real.

"Police Launch Massive Search for two student friends who vanished in the night in 'one of the strangest cases cops have ever seen."

If you live in New England and watch the news (which I never do except in this instance), you would have heard about this strange case.  It was plastered from CNN to NBC; and in the Boston Globe to newspapers in faraway England all throughout the holiday. Prescott and his friend, Zachary, had been at a party on that Wednesday night, right before their semester at school ended.  They were each planning to go to their respective homes for the holiday at the end of the week.  But they never returned to their own apartments, or to school, let alone to their parent’s homes. Although their cell phones and wallets were found at Zach’s house, as well as Zach’s vehicle, they were never seen nor heard from again.  


Prescott was only 23 years old.  He grew up in Barnstable on Cape Cod, and lived for the water. Like his dad, he was a sailor practically since the day he was born. Prescott had his own business, Wright Marine Specialty; and had graduated from the Landing School, a boat building school in Kennebunkport, Maine. He had returned this year to further his studies in yacht design, and was planning to continue it even further at the ‘mother’ school next year over in England. Prescott had restored his own classic sailboat, and had even sailed it to our cottage last fall on the coast of Maine, where he and our kids won first place in a sailing regatta. How could someone with such promise, so full of life, with the  whole world before him just simply “vanish”, as all the news stories reported? It seemed impossible.


The first thing that I thought of was Tom Sawyer, a book my son Joshua and I are currently reading out loud together. “Maybe it’s a prank,” I suggested. “You know, like staging their own death or something.” I had to admit, it didn’t seem a likely prank to pull before Christmas, and it was totally and completely out of character for our friend Prescott … but it beat the alternative.


Dana continued, “Whitney thinks they went out in one or two boats in the middle of the night on the ocean.”  They had apparently been drinking and not thinking clearly, and were up for an adventure. They had been overheard as saying something to this effect. When they didn’t return home after the party, or to school the next day, their friends and roommates reported this to school officials, who called the police and an investigation ensued. It was called one of the ‘strangest disappearances’ they had ever seen.  For two days a land, sea and air search, with planes, boats with sonar, and divers turned up nothing, until the search had to be suspended by storms. When it resumed, their clothes and life-jackets were found on a nearby island, but no sign of the boys. It was thought that they had been out in boats (one empty kayak, belonging to a friend of Prescott’s), had washed down wind into a tributary and was found a few days later, but no other signs of the boys were discovered.


 Perhaps they were kayaking, overturned in the sudden nor’easter that blew in that night, and somehow made it to this island. Taking off their wet clothes, and fighting hypothermia in the bitter temperatures, time would have been of the essence. They might have been trying to swim unencumbered by wet apparel. It was a relatively short distance of 100 yards to another nearby island with a lighthouse, where it was well-known to sailors that emergency rescue radios were kept. Perhaps some combination of fierce weather, rough seas, exhaustion, inebriation and hypothermia prevented their ever making it there. It still remains a mystery, but there is some evidence pointing to the fact that they were swept out and lost at sea. Days later, all hope vanished. With a week of bitter cold, storms, no clothes or food, there was no chance of survival, and eventually even recover efforts were suspended. They were gone.


The weeks after this were a blur, I slept poorly, often waking in the middle of the night, hoping it was all a bad dream.  Grief has definite stages, and it works its own way through them without any help from us. First comes the Shock, then Disbelief and Denial. It is replaced by hope.  Intense hope. “They WILL turn up, I know it … and it will be a Christmas Miracle!! This will be one for the storybooks, when Prescott tells us of this latest adventure that had us all so worried!”  Then comes the realization: He’s not coming back, and grief becomes a constant companion. Those things hit me first, and they were very strong.  Our whole family was and grief-stricken. We tried valiantly to rouse ourselves for Christmas; we all put on a good front, but we were mourning.  Many days later it was (for me at least), surprisingly followed by anger. “How could you be so stupid? You KNOW better than this … you ARE better than this!  How DARE you be so careless with your beautiful, precious young life?” And then this was followed by such a sadness, I can’t describe it.  Sadness for a life full of hope and promise cut too terribly short. Sadness for our own family and the personal loss it would bring.  Intense sadness for our friends who had just lost their only child. There was even more sadness as I considered what I would do if I ever lost one of my own children. How would I ever be able to cope? Would I ever be able to cope? And then one day, finally, a numbing acceptance settled over me, with the realization that ‘Our friend is gone.’ He was an amazing young man and I will never forget him.




Life intercedes and forces us who are still living to pick up one foot in front of the other and somehow soldier on. In the weeks that followed, there were two Celebrations of Prescott’s life; one on Cape Cod where he had lived; one on the coast of Maine to help bring closure to his schoolmates and many friends. We attended both, which were amazingly moving tributes, and both highly emotional.  We stayed at the home of Prescott’s father, our dear friend Whitney, offering what support we could.  What can one say in such a situation?  The answer is Nothing … There are no words.  There isn’t a thing anyone can say or do to help or to lessen the pain.  But we were there, unconditionally, as friends. It was both one of the most heart-wrenching, tragic experiences our family has ever encountered, and oddly, also the most precious, most memorable event of our lives. It was an example of how love and friendship can get people through such devastating and unimaginable loss together. In death as in life, the bonds of true friendship are immutable.


This tragedy has changed my life,  not only for the personal loss we all feel as we miss our special friend Prescott Wright. Throughout the past month I have learned so many life lessons from this event, and because of it, I count this young man (not much more than a boy, really) to be one of my most influential teachers. Although I knew it intellectually before, I have now experienced and understand that:
• Life is a gift, not only to ourselves, but to others as well.  We don’t ask for it, we are just blessed with it. Such is the grace of God.
• Life is precious, fragile, and unfortunately, all too fleeting.
• Our lives touch untold others in ways we can’t possibly imagine. Our loss brings unimaginable pain to those who love us.
• Our actions have consequences. We are not invincible. While living life ‘on the edge’ and ‘pushing the envelope’ to the fullest are admirable qualities, taking foolish risks can have devastating consequences. We reap what we sow, and while we don’t want to live fearfully, we should live deliberately and aware of how our actions may affect us and those who love us.
• Live life to the fullest, and make every moment count. We have no guarantees. As my old friend Thoreau says, “I wished to live life deliberately … to suck out all the marrow of life … and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
• If we have an addiction or a problem that is getting the better of us, address it and get help. 


Whitney said it best to Prescott’s friends at his memorial service: “The reason for Prescott’s death is clear to me. The ocean did not kill him, alcohol did. I have been sick enough to lose my fear of death. One of the big motivators in my successful battle against melanoma was not the fear of dying, I wanted to avoid the horrible pain of those who I would leave behind. This is the meaning of Prescott’s death. This is a notice to everyone to look at yourself. Perhaps you are like so many people who can have a couple of drinks and have some fun and stay under control, but perhaps you are like me and you can not drink in safety. It is easy to die. It is much harder to lose someone who you love. Don’t make the people who love you go through what I am going through. Seek help.”
I’ll end with a story told by one of Prescott’s friends, which I read in a scrapbook that friends made for his parents in his memory. It represents the fun spirit of adventure he had. Although he “lived large, was imminently competent and had big dreams,  he never lost his ability to appreciate the  small things, the things that really matter in life. This is one of my favorite entries from the scrapbook:  “While driving up to the Isle of Skye on Prescott’s trip to visit me in Scotland, we passed a forest where all but one tree was felled. This tree was bare but it was old and beautiful. With so many branches interlaced, this tree stood in the foreground, the most beautiful landscape imaginable. Behind the tree were both mountains and ocean, only to be divided by a large cliff.  This tree was awesome. Prescott in the moment turned to me saying, “How about that tree? That is so rad. Let’s remember that tree forever.” It was just sort of a joke, but always taken seriously. Hours later in a pub: “Hey, remember that tree?”  Days later: “Hey, remember that tree?” We would call and text each other just with that one line.  We planned on always remembering that tree for all our lives. Though this is silly, that tree provided an immediate portal back to Scotland, where we shared many memories and many laughs. That small phrase reminded us of those simply fun times. Much of me is sad that those calls and texts have ceased, but the truth is that I won’t ever forget that tree, and when I think of it all I can do is smile for the spirit of Prescott will live on forever.” –A.L.
And so, my friends, be sure to find your trees every day, whatever they are, wherever you may find them. I thank you for indulging me in this; I needed to get it off my Farmgirl chest. Sharing each other’s burdens doesn’t lessen the pain, but it somehow makes them  more bearable. Thank you, with love and hugs from Cathi,

The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Adrienne
On: 01/21/2013 12:35:55
I'm sending you a warm hug and touching your heart in sympathy and empathy. No words are needed.
By: Cassondra
On: 01/21/2013 12:49:38
What a touching story. Thank you for sharing. God bless you and all those reading this.
A fellow country farmgirl
By: Jeanette Jacobson
On: 01/21/2013 13:04:08
Love, hugs & prayers for all of you.
By: Janet
On: 01/21/2013 13:34:23
This is an absolute beautiful story, thank you for sharing. We become so caught up in daily routine, we sometimes forget just how precious life and the people around us really are. We have to focus on the positive, beautiful special moments that are huge, when it comes right down to it........God Bless you Farm Girl!!
By: Sukochi Lee
On: 01/21/2013 13:40:37
So very heart wrenching, and yet, such a beautiful story. A man who, without a doubt, would have one day made a difference. I mourn for you and with you. From you words, I feel like Preston was MY friend, too.
By: Betty Benesi
On: 01/21/2013 13:52:11
My deepest sympathies to you my friend. I can tell you from experience, there is probably nothing worse than the death of someone close. And yes you got the stages right. By the time I was 20, I had lost both parents and a brother, only to loose my first child at 4 mos. Kids are the worst I think because it is a life wasted. You may find that people will avoid you because they don't know what to say. As for me, the best expression I can think of is in Spanish "Lo Siento Mucho" which translated literally means "I feel it much." My heart is with you. Cherish every moment you can with your loved ones because you never know when it may be your last. No regrets!
By: Laura Brewer
On: 01/21/2013 13:53:57
Cathi, thank you for sharing your soul with all of us. I, too, lost one dear to me, my husband, just days before our 24th anniversary. While he had been ill, it was still a shock, as your loss was. I grieve with you and yours, and send prayers to give you strength for the days ahead.
By: MaryJane
On: 01/21/2013 14:07:18
It's good to finally hear from you and get some details. We've been worried ... and also hoping that somehow it would turn out differently-like you said, a miracle. We love you Cathi. Stay strong.
By: Donna
On: 01/21/2013 14:44:40
powerful......thank you for the reality of your words......the grief, the loss, that beautiful spirit of that young man...and the reality of alcohol.
By: Laurice Cox
On: 01/21/2013 15:42:41
God's Word tells us to "bear one another's burdens". I am so glad you have shared this chapter of your life with us. It is a riveting story--one with no real ending. But I'm glad you have been able to move to a place of acceptance because now you can help Prescott's dad and mom in the coming months and years. I will pray for you all.
By: Joan
On: 01/21/2013 15:51:42
Condolences and thank you for sharing, what are Farmgirl friends for if not to be there. I will keep you all in my prayers, God will provide. God Bless all.
By: bonnie ellis
On: 01/21/2013 16:33:23
Cathi: I read this with tears in my eyes because I have sons and because of my compassion for all of you going through this sad ordeal. Consider yourself engulfed in a big bear hug from this farmgirl from Minnesota. God Bless.
By: Robin
On: 01/21/2013 16:48:09
Wow, is all I can really say since I cannot adequately express how I feel after reading such a touching story. I will, however, be sure to take her advice to heart, because those things are what life is really about.

Please tell her ....Thank you for sharing.
By: Roz
On: 01/21/2013 17:49:14
Cathi, I sit here, reading your words and find myself reading them again. I send my condolences to you, your whole family on your recent loss of your beloved "Prescott". In your message about Prescott and such a young age, he touched many family, friends, and others with the fruit that still abides in your hearts and has multiplied to others. What fond memories each ones holds. He has touched me through reading your message and I thank you for sharing. IN reading your loving thoughts of him, he was a fun-loving and quite a colorful magnet to all who knew him well. He will be missed but you each will await the joy of reuniting with him and our Saviour, Jesus Christ when we too are called home. And so, "until then, your hearts will go on singing,,,". You all continue to rejoice in having known and been blessed by 'Prescott'and his entire family. May GOD Bless each of you during this time of bereavement and keep you comforted by HIS HOLY Spirit.
Side note for you:
I am so thankful for you, Cathi and your many, many talents and for sharing yourself and the journey we all are on. YOU are blessed with the words and can journal them so that I am like a child, on the edge of my seat, excited for your next blog and what it holds...(each one has touched my heart or kept me laughing through out the day with different tidbits or golden nuggets, I call them) You come in each reader's life and I am sure I speak for many when I say, a part of you is with us, locked in our hearts and I haven even met you but feel that friend coming in, having java, cozy and relish in our experiences, sharing daily talks with each other and the 'gal talks starts'. How exciting!! I keep you in my thoughts and prayers and just so grateful to our Heavenly Father for your life and letting me and all the "Mary Jane's Farmgirls" share the love and feeling it. Being at the right place, right time in finding "Mary Jane's Farm" with many good bloggers but you 'touch' us all and make us laugh, cry, think, grateful,remembering, treasure our family, friends daily and yes, Cathi, finding our 'trees' daily. Thank You seems so simply but its heartfelt and you have touched my life with your musings. Friend of mine.....
By: Mariann
On: 01/21/2013 17:56:51
My heart goes out to you and those who know this young man. So very sorry for your loss. Wasn't so long ago when our Church went through a simular loss when both our pastors oldest sons were killed in a car accident. Not at Christmas time but painful beyond belief. We were taken aback for years. Love and Prayers to you all. Mariann in Alaska.
By: Jan Ammann
On: 01/21/2013 17:57:21
Hello Cathi.......
It is at moments like this that the enormity of life suddenly hits you. The lose of a friend.....actually any human being.....is a tramatic and sometimes a life-altering event. I feel for Whitney for the loss of his son and I feel sad for you. However, a valuable lesson is always learned through tragedy.

i have been through this kind of tragedy and it does "wake up" a part of our psyche. We suddenly realize that "life stops" sometimes very suddenly and completely unexpected. It is a shame that Prescott had to live a very small span of years.....and this extends to his friend.

You will now treasure each day a little more more closely......you will welcome each morning as the sun comes and rejoice in the beautiful color in the sky.....you will hug your family a little tighter....you will feel more strength as you read or listen to a biblical phrase.....you will find more joy in your friendships.

Treasure each day...........each hour.....and give thanks for "your personal world" that embraces you...........Best regards......Jan.
By: Janice Tutone
On: 01/21/2013 19:02:17
Dear Cathi, What a beautifully written piece! I have children in this age group and it is unimaginable that anything like this should happen to our family. I think the not knowing would be the hardest. Your post touched me deeply and brought many tears. I wish there were comforting words for you, your family and friends. Prescott seems like he was an amazing young man and your description made me feel like I know him. My heart goes out to all of you and I wish you peace. Thank you for sharing the stories told at the memorial service. Sincerely, Janice XO
By: Carol Norwood
On: 01/21/2013 19:10:06
Cathi ... Your pain is so clear as I read your words. You have suffered so many losses in December. I am so sorry. It's all so sad and yet you have found lessons in it all. I will pray for healing for you and all of your family as you weave up and down in the waters of sorrow. There are so many things in this life that we simply cannot understand. God Bless You. Carol, Farmgirl Sister #3886
By: KimberlyD
On: 01/21/2013 19:38:21
I don't know what to say, except what a tragic lost of life at such a young life.
By: Barbara Grace
On: 01/21/2013 20:09:29
So sorry to hear of your sudden, shocking loss. It is so hard to lose young men so full of life. My heart goes out to you. Grace FG #4772
By: Shery
On: 01/21/2013 20:39:02
Thank you for sharing the depths of this experience. Many things you shared, I'd never thought of. My thoughts are with your dear friend. So much to cope with. I cannot imagine. You said that it helped to write about it. It helped me to read it. We grow a little each time someone teaches us something about compassion that we didn't know because we've not experienced their heartbreak.
By: Beth
On: 01/21/2013 22:01:19
You have the biggest longest hug I can give. You will never forget this, and always will wonder what happened? My neighbor, who was graduating from high school in 1967, went for a ride with his sisters boyfriend in his plane when they were home on spring break. It was assumed they went own river on the Missouri and crashed somewhere. Nothing has ever been found. I was almost 7 years old at the time and have never forgotten. This is something we wonder about and never understand, and I can feel your pain in your words as we think, what a waste, but maybe He has plans
By: Denise
On: 01/22/2013 01:09:36
What a terribly sad, but beautiful tale... Prayers for your comfort and strength as well as Prescotts parents...sending you all big hugs...xxx
By: Charlene C. Hummel-Fleming
On: 01/22/2013 06:13:41
Dear Cathi, I "too" know how it feel's to lose loved one's at Christmas time,also at other time's of the year as well.

My older sister Susan Hummel-West fought colon cancer for around 2 & half year's, and after a valiant fight to beable t continue living she took her final breath of life on Earth on a Christmas evening, Dec. 25th 1997. Three month's before my dearly missed sister slipped away into God's loving arm's, her husband, and dear to my heart as well brother-in-law, Alfred (Al) West passed away from cancer of the pancreas (his also valiant fight to beable to continue living was much shorter in length but just as devestating, and sense-less seeming). They'd been high school sweetheart's (Simi Valley, California), married shortly there after while the Viet Nam war was still going on; Al was in the Air force, and they then went on to have three breautiful children (one daughter, two twin son's). Not a single day passes when I don't think about them, say hello's to them in my rememberance's, also from within my heart as well; the same as I do with all of my many loved one's up in Heaven; where I go, they go, and what I know with absolute! surity is that I've been made a much better, more complete, more loving, more caring, more giving person for having known them. Their passing while searingly painful for my heart and life to bear, wasn't lost in vain at all because while they were here their live's touched so very many other people's live's~"just" like even a single tear drop into a pond ripple's more and more outward touching all the other many droplet's of water, so too did my sister sue, and her husband Al's live's while here on Earth touch in meaningful, good way's the live's of so very many other's. And now from Heaven above they continue touching not only my heart but also my life, and other's live's as well who have tucked their memory's into their own heart's as well.

Their live's made a difference of great importance. Their passing wasn't in vain. Deeply missed they'll alway's be, deeply cherished they'll forever be.

I "know" the hurt's of your heart, the loss from your life, and I also have come to know the abundant comforting which can come after we've been able to finally lay aside the dark, cold clothes of grief, and fling! open our heart's like window's after a very! long, difficult to bear winter, and allow back into our heart's and live's all the many gift's which can come after we've survived through such a darkness our breath's literally get taken away seemingly for forever, but with God & Angel's sprinkled upon our heart's & soul's loving, comforting Grace, we revive "over time" to once again beable to welcome back within us Spring's renewing "gift's" which come to us as well from our loved one's in Heaven :)

I wish you God's many! blessing's alway's, Love Charlene living in Newport, Rhode Island.

By: noreen
On: 01/22/2013 07:41:03
much sweet love to you today
By: Nicole
On: 01/22/2013 12:37:24
Oh,Cathi, what a heart-wrenching post. I am so, so sorry for your loss, and for the parents of this young man. You have written beautifully; I hope it has helped you in this painful time.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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